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Middle East Crisis: Spain, Norway and Ireland Recognize a Palestinian State, a Blow to Israel

Spain, Norway and Ireland said on Wednesday that they would recognize an independent Palestinian state, a rebuke to Israel over its war in Gaza and its decades of occupation of Palestinian territories.

Although scores of countries have recognized Palestinian statehood, the closely coordinated announcements by the three nations carried added weight amid the growing toll of Israel’s military offensive in Gaza, and because most Western European countries have resisted recognizing it.

The moves will likely have little immediate impact on conditions for Palestinians in the Israeli-occupied West Bank or in Gaza, where health authorities say that more than 35,000 people have been killed in over seven months of Israeli bombardment and ground combat. But the view in a growing number of capitals that Palestinian statehood cannot wait for a permanent peace deal with Israel amounted to a powerful signal of dwindling international patience with Israel’s policies.

“Palestinians have a fundamental, independent right to an independent state,” Jonas Gahr Store, the prime minister of Norway, said at a news conference in Oslo announcing the decision, which will go into effect on Tuesday.

Spain’s decision will take effect the same day, Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez said, adding that Spain had been forced to act because Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel did not have a plan for long-term peace with the Palestinians.

“The two-state solution is in danger,” Mr. Sanchez said in remarks to Parliament, referring to a proposed framework for establishing an independent Palestinian state alongside Israel. “It’s time to move from words to action — to tell millions of innocent Palestinians who are suffering that we are with them, that there is hope,” he added.

Prime Minister Simon Harris of Ireland said at a news conference that he was confident that other countries would join them in recognizing Palestinian statehood in the coming weeks.

A protest in support of the Palestinians and a cease-fire in Gaza, in Barcelona in January.Credit…Emilio Morenatti/Associated Press

More than 140 countries and the Holy See have recognized a Palestinian state, but most Western European countries and the United States have not. They say recognition should be achieved through negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians, and that while they support a two-state solution, unilateral measures by third parties will not advance that goal.

Israel strongly opposes international recognition of a Palestinian state — Mr. Netanyahu has called the establishment such a state an “existential danger” — and maintains that Israel needs to negotiate directly with Palestinian leaders on a permanent solution.

On Wednesday, in response to the announcements, Israel recalled its ambassadors from Spain, Norway and Ireland for consultations.

“Today’s decision sends a message to the Palestinians and the world: Terrorism pays,” said Israel Katz, the Israeli foreign minister, who warned of unspecified “severe consequences.”

Members of the Palestinian leadership based in the West Bank welcomed the announcements. “We believe it will help preserve the two-state solution and give Palestinians hope that they will have their own state side-by-side with Israel in peace and security,” Ziad Abu Amr, a senior Palestinian official, said in an interview.

Hamas, which led the Oct. 7 attacks on Israel that touched off the war in Gaza, also praised the announcements, calling them “an important step on the path of affirming our right to our land.”

An Israeli officer directing traffic at the Qalandia checkpoint between Ramallah, in the Israeli-occupied West Bank, and Jerusalem, in December.Credit…Sergey Ponomarev for The New York Times

For many nations, Israel’s arguments against recognition are less persuasive than they have been in the past: Most of Israel’s right-wing government opposes the establishment of a Palestinian state, and serious negotiations on a two-state solution haven’t been held for over a decade.

Some observers argue that by not recognizing a Palestinian state, the West has enabled a far-right Israeli agenda opposed to its existence. It “gives leverage to Israel to keep encroaching on the land and resources and the people of the other state,” Husam Zomlot, the Palestinian envoy to Britain, said in a recent interview.

Wednesday’s announcements were the latest blow to Israel on the international stage, and came days after the International Criminal Court’s chief prosecutor requested arrest warrants for Mr. Netanyahu and Israel’s defense minister, along with leaders of Hamas, on war crimes charges stemming from the Oct. 7 attacks and the Israeli offensive in Gaza.

Spain, Ireland and Norway have all strongly criticized Israel’s conduct of the war and have historically been strong supporters of the Palestinians. All three continued to provide funding for UNRWA, the main U.N. agency that helps Palestinian refugees, after Israel accused about a dozen of its employees of being involved in the Oct. 7 attacks.

In Ireland, support for Palestinians has deep roots; in Spain, Mr. Sanchez has been a leading voice in Europe for the protection of Palestinian rights.

Norway has historically cast itself as a mediator between Israel and the Palestinians. In 1993, it hosted the clandestine meetings that led to the Oslo Accords, the framework for peace that came close to resolving the conflict, but ultimately failed.

Aaron Boxerman, Henrik Pryser Libell, Adam Rasgon and Victoria Kim contributed reporting.

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Last modified: 22 May 2024
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